36. SEAL Team Six

SEAL Team Six

Now these are the chiefs of David’s mighty men, who gave him strong support in his kingdom… Now Abishai, the brother of Joab, was chief of the thirty.

1 Chronicles 11:10, 20‬ ‭

Wright and I painfully endured the self-inflicted wounds of our sandy trek. Throughout the following week, our Aloe Vera application continued between pack runs with our EMR’s, observation exercises and introduction to stalking.1 The instructors also steadily introduced more challenges with each Kim’s game, adding loud music and distracting conversations while we attempted to memorize the items, followed by short or long runs between penning them down. My rear neck muscles added soreness in addition to the burnt skin as we spent much time in the prone position, extending our heads to look through our spotting scopes.

Though I roughed through the training, and didn’t particularly like wearing and removing camo paint, I liked the course as it progressed. I also looked forward to shooting the EMR, though we couldn’t on Dam Neck because they were renovating the range at that time. The following week our class would travel to Quantico, the Marine base some three hours north at the edge of Virginia. 

After our school sessions, Wright and I would continue with additional exercises, always wanting to stay one step ahead of our peers. He seemed to continuously be on the cutting edge of novelties. Not only did he own an Iphone, he introduced me to his new suspension system, the TRX straps‬,2 which added a new dimension to my continually improving routine. 

As we exercised, his pique fitness became evident. Standing at 5’ 8’’, he weighed in at a chiseled 160 pounds. Always seeking to push himself in different ways, he rarely performed the same bout of exercises twice. Weighted runs, rucks, biking, Crossfit, and standard weightlifting all helped craft his lean physique. 

With ample physical activity performed during the day, evening, and throughout our crazy Virginia Beach trek, I eagerly anticipated my visits to the chow hall. While eating, I glanced at a broadcast for a few minutes on one of the many suspended televisions. Over the past few days the same breaking news flashed on screen. Reporters kept talking about an American cargo ship captain held hostage at sea by Somali pirates. 

I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to it. I was more focused on the four day Easter weekend ahead. Moreover, I looked forward to seeing Dust finally after our nearly one year separation. By fortuitous circumstance, Dust was in Virginia at the same time I was, though he attended CQB school. We exchanged a few texts and decided to meet up in Virginia Beach. 

I managed to hitch a cab ride off base Sunday morning.

When Rich pulled up, Dust stepped out. We reunited with a colliding hug.

“What’s up bro?!” I shouted.

“Nothin, man. Just excited to see you, how ya been?”

“Doin’ great. DM school is off to a good start. How’s CQB?”

“It’s fuckin’ rough. They wake us up at the asscrack of dawn to run us in our full kit every morning. There’s some British Royal Marines there too that make us all look like pussies. They literally run circles around us.”

Rich stepped out with the idling SUV.

“Hey, Ryan, how’ve you doin?”

“I’m doing well, Rich, and yourself?”

“Not too bad. You hungry?”

“I’m always hungry.”

“I’m fuckin’ starvin,” Phill added. 

“Well, get in the car and we can get some food,” Rich said as he made his way to the driver’s seat. We both hopped in and we headed back for his house.

When we entered Rich’s home, there was no sight or scent of food. The house was dark, an unusual appearance for Easter dinner that should be ready within only a few hours.

“Hey Rich, where’s Sharon and the kids?” Dust asked.

“They’re out of town this weekend, so it’s just me.”

“What’s the plan for dinner tonight?” I asked.

“We’ll be eating at a SEAL’s house. He’s just around the corner.”

I was ecstatic when I heard the news. This would be my second chance to meet and remember these men after having utterly failed to do so last year.3 Spending Easter dinner with one or several SEALs would certainly be a more intimate environment to talk to them, or at the very least, I could be much more diligent with focused attention, actually remember their names and have a more memorable experience. 

We spent only a few minutes at Rich’s house before loading up in the car to take the less than two minute drive to his friend’s house. We all stepped out of the car on the cool, cloudy April afternoon. Following behind Rich, we approached the door as he rang the bell.

A woman greeted us. Her tapering, layered blonde hair was cut shorter behind and extended slightly longer towards her cheeks, dangling a few inches from her shoulders. She greeted us with a half-lit smile that quickly dissipated after her greeting.

“Hi Rich, good to see you.”

“Hey Tina, how you been?”

“Oh, I’m hangin’ in there. Why don’t you all step in, it’s cold outside.”

Once our shoes were removed we found ourselves in the opening of a well-kept living room. Plush couches lined the wall by the door with several pictures surrounding us hung at eye level. We followed behind Tina and Rich to the kitchen straight through the opening of the living room and congregated at the island as Tina worked her way to the other side by the stove.

“Where’s Bud? He here?”

“I’m sorry, but unfortunately he couldn’t make it, he was called in to work a few nights ago.”

“Damn, on Easter weekend?” Rich asked.

“Yeah, I know. We had big plans. But you know how it is in the Navy.”

“So I guess It’ll just be the four of us then?”

“Yeah. At least we’ll have plenty of food!” she said once again flashing a nervous smile. “And I’m so sorry, I didn’t even catch your names,” she said, turning towards Dust.

“I’m Phil ma’am.”

“And you are?”

“My name is Ryan. Thanks for having us Tina.”

“My pleasure. Thank you for coming. If y’all didn’t swing by, I’d be eating alone tonight.”

“So the rest of the guys out too then?” Rich continued.

“Yes, the whole team left on a last minute assignment.”

Rich looked puzzled, wheels turning in his head with Tina’s vague, apprehensive remarks. I could tell something was off. She clearly wanted to avoid talking about her husband and his teammates. I found it odd too that a high ranking SEAL would be called in to work on a weekend held sacred by all military branches. 

We exchanged small talk and ate appetizers while Tina finished cooking. As the afternoon progressed, the news reel I caught in the chow hall popped in my mind. Wait a minute, wasn’t something happening with an American captured by Somalis? Could this guy have been sent on a mission to rescue him? The thought seemed ludicrous, but it lingered in the back of my mind. 

An hour or two passed when the phone rang. Tina rushed to answer it and scurried off to a bedroom down the hall, closing the door behind her. Dust and I exchanged a surprised look. After a few moments, she burst through the door shouting,

“Turn on the television, they saved him, they rescued Captain Phillips!”

Rich looked around, finding the remote on the couch and turned on the T.V. 

The news headline read “BREAKING: Three shots, three kills,” while a reporter essentially repeated what Tina just told us. 

“Holy shit.” Dust said with a pause “That’s fuckin’ awesome!” He rose up his glass of Crown Royale to clash with everyone else’s.

Dust and I let out hallowed cries of excitement, starstruck at the realization we were in the presence of greatness. Once our ridiculous display ended, Tina opened up.

“I’m sorry guys, I know I was quiet this whole afternoon, but I couldn’t talk about anything unless the situation was resolved.”

“Hey, no problem.” Dust said. The shock of the situation still hadn’t completely settled in yet as I began processing what happened. Somehow, we were eating Easter dinner with the wife of an absent Navy SEAL who’d been tasked with rescuing Captain Phillips the day they saved him. My curiosity couldn’t be silenced.

“So, did your husband shoot one of the pirates?”

“Oh no he’s the Master Chief.” Phil and I exchanged another look of wide-eyed disbelief.

The master chief?!

“Here, I’ll show you the team.”

She motioned with her hand to follow her back into the entryway living room. Once we passed the doorway, and took an immediate turn she pointed out a picture hanging on the wall posted next to the doorway.

“See here?” Tina’s finger moved up to the photo on the wall. “Bud is up there, but that guy probably shot one, he shot one and I bet Ollie shot one too.” Our jaws may have touched the floor at this point as the reality of whose house we were in continued setting in. “Have a look guys, I need to get back to the kitchen, dinner will be ready soon.”

We stared intently at the photo. Roughly thirty bearded4 badasses wearing ball caps, sunglasses, high-speed gear, and brandishing weapons I’d never seen before all glared at the camera. Were some of these guys at the Cinco de Mayo party?5 I thought. I noticed other photographs on the walls, though only one other sticks out in my memory. 

Bud embraced Tina in a wedding photo. The left breast pocket of his dress whites were visible enough to inspect his ribbons. A Bronze Star6 with a V7 immediately caught my eye. I couldn’t believe what just happened; whose house I’d soon eat dinner in. 

Though I’m sure Tina8 made us some amazing food, the heat of the excitement branded only these memories in my mind. A few years later I met some SEALs and shared this story with them. One commented that the most elite SEAL unit was tasked with the mission to rescue Captain Phillips. At that point it dawned on me. While I enjoyed an Easter meal with his wife in 2009, Captain Phillips was rescued through a flawlessly executed, nationally publicized mission this man attended who was at the very least, a Master Chief but may have also been the Command Master Chief of SEAL Team Six.9

  1. Stalking refers to the covert insertion of sniper units into position by means of stealth under concealment. For scout snipers they use their ghillie suits during this exercise, but because DM school is by no means as prestigious as Scout Sniper school, all we used was camo paint. Typically when stalking, the shooter approaches the target while low crawling between cover, sometimes spanning long distances in order to maintain stealth while positioning in the optimal position to observe and possibly engage the enemy.
  2. TRX straps were designed by a Navy SEAL as a portable means of suspension exercise. These straps are made of durable material that splits into two extended portions with hand grips. They can be hooked onto a door jamb or elevated bar where one can perform many different exercises.
  3. See post 25. Quiet Professionals
  4. The military has strict regulations when it comes to shaving. The only facial hair allowed is a tightly trimmed mustache that does not pass the edge of one’s lips. Some special operations units however, are allowed and even encouraged to grow beards while deployed. Therefore in the military, a beard, at least in my mind, was a symbol of status as a true warrior.
  5. If you missed it, my first encounter with these men were at the Cinco de Mayo party of 2008. Click here to read.
  6. The Bronze Star is the fourth highest combat award
  7. Some medals have a ¼ inch V pinned on them, which signifies the medal was received due to meritorious service in combat.
  8. Tina and Bud are not the real names of the individuals. I do not remember their names.
  9. SEAL Team Six, also known as Development Group, or DEVGRU, is the top tier SEAL team that can only be joined when a SEAL puts in a special application to try out for the team and is selected. This team focuses on the most urgent national security missions. SEAL Team Six was also responsible for conducting the Bin Laden raid May 1, 2011.

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